Justia New Mexico Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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This case addressed the procedure for determining whether a jury was deadlocked. In this case, the jury announced that it was hung on Count 1, which required it to consider whether Defendant Clive Phillips was guilty of first-degree premeditated murder, second-degree murder, or voluntary manslaughter. The district court polled the jurors. During the poll, seven jurors stated that the jury had unanimously agreed Phillips was not guilty of first-degree murder, but five jurors indicated the jury was unable to reach a verdict on that crime. The only verdict form given to the jury that exclusively referred to first-degree murder was the guilty verdict form, so there was no written record of whether the jury had acquitted Phillips of that crime or deadlocked during deliberations. The district court determined that the jury was hung on first-degree murder. The New Mexico Supreme Court held the trial judge failed to clearly establish on the record whether the jury deadlocked on first-degree murder, and therefore Phillips could only be retried on the lowest offense in Count 1, voluntary manslaughter. The Supreme Court reversed the district court and remanded to dismiss the first- and second-degree murder charges with prejudice. View "New Mexico v. Phillips" on Justia Law

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The New Mexico Supreme Court clarified the circumstances under which a court may permissibly exclude a witness as a discovery sanction. Defendant-appellant Ashley Le Mier unsuccessfully attempted to smuggle illegal substances into the Roosevelt County Detention Center (RCDC) by concealing them within a body cavity. The contraband was discovered during a strip search, Le Mier was charged with three minor criminal offenses, to which she pled not guilty. The discovery phase of the proceedings lasted eighteen months. Le Mier’s substitute counsel entered her appearance a year after Le Mier’s arraignment. Ten days before the final trial setting, defense counsel filed an amended motion to exclude witnesses. In that motion, counsel protested that the State still had neither facilitated the phone conversation between her and a witness, nor provided accurate addresses for all witnesses. The trial court ultimately granted Le Mier’s request to exclude the witnesses her counsel was unable to reach, despite earnest efforts to do so. The Supreme court concluded the district court issued clear, unambiguous, and reasonable discover orders to ensure the parties would be prepared to try Le Mier’s case in a timely fashion. The State failed to comply with these orders, and accordingly, could not proceed to trial. The district court’s order was an appropriate exercise of its discretionary authority. View "New Mexico v. Le Mier" on Justia Law

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Shortly before 4:00 am with a police officer in pursuit, Defendant Trevor Merhege ran through the front yard of a private residence that was enclosed by a three-foot-high wall. He became entangled on a chain link fence as he attempted to jump over an adjoining fence into the back yard of the residence. He was convicted of criminal trespass. Because the property was not posted, the State was required to prove that Merhege knew that he was not permitted to enter the property. Merhege contended that there was insufficient evidence to support this knowledge requirement. The Court of Appeals agreed and reversed his conviction, concluding that because the property’s driveway was not posted with a “no trespassing” sign and the property owner gave no other explicit warnings not to enter, Merhege and the public at large were presumptively granted permission to enter the property. After review, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and reinstated Merhege’s conviction for criminal trespass because the wall surrounding the property’s front yard, the purpose of his entry, and the time of his entry provided sufficient circumstantial evidence for the jury to find that Merhege knew that he did not have consent to enter the property. View "New Mexico v. Merhege" on Justia Law

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Kimberly Montano, a New Mexico resident, sought bariatric surgery for her obesity in early 2004. At that time Eldo Frezza, M.D. was the only doctor from whom Montano could receive that surgery and still be covered by her insurer. Montano believed that she needed the procedure and that she could not afford it without medical insurance coverage. Dr. Frezza was employed as a bariatric surgeon and professor and served as chief of bariatric surgery at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, Texas. The issue this case ultimately presented for the New mexico Supreme Court’s review was whether a New Mexico resident who had been injured by the negligence of a state- employed Texas surgeon name that surgeon as a defendant in a New Mexico lawsuit when Texas sovereign immunity laws would require that the lawsuit be dismissed. The Court initially presumed that comity should be extended because cooperation and respect between states was important. “However, this presumption is overcome and a New Mexico court need not fully extend comity if the sister state’s law offends New Mexico public policy” In this case, the New Mexico Court applied the Texas provision requiring that the case against the surgeon be dismissed because do View "Montano v. Frezza" on Justia Law

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A court-appointed psychologist evaluated Defendant Desiree Linares and recommended that she be found incompetent to stand trial due to mental retardation. The State doubted the psychologist’s testing methodology and conclusions and requested an opportunity to conduct an independent evaluation using its own expert. The district court granted this request, but because Linares had filed a speedy-trial motion and the proceedings had been "fraught with needless and unexplained delay," the district court allowed the psychologist to attend and observe the State’s independent evaluation to ensure the issue of Linares’ mental retardation was quickly resolved. The State insisted that this was unacceptable and unlawful and declined to conduct the evaluation. Ultimately, the district court accepted the court-appointed psychologist’s recommendations and found Linares incompetent due to mental retardation. Linares was civilly committed to the New Mexico Department of Health (DOH) and the criminal proceedings against her were dismissed. In a direct appeal, the State contended that the district court abused its discretion and effectively denied it an opportunity for an "independent" evaluation by permitting the court-appointed psychologist to attend the second, independent evaluation which ultimately did not occur. The State also argued that the district court abused its discretion in concluding that Linares was incompetent to stand trial. Finding no error in the trial court record, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "New Mexico v. Linares" on Justia Law

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Petitioner and Albuquerque resident David Crum was registered to vote in New Mexico as a qualified voter who declined to designate or state his political party affiliation (DTS). He sought to vote during the 2014 primary election by selecting either a Democratic or a Republican ballot without having to amend his voter registration. Crum was not permitted to vote during the June 3, 2014 primary election because he was not registered as either a Democrat or a Republican1 on or before May 6, 2014. Crum contended that the Free and Open Clause of Article II, Section 8 of the New Mexico Constitution entitled him to vote during primary elections without registering with a major political party because he was a qualified voter under Article VII, Section 1. The Supreme Court disagreed: “[a]lthough the Free and Open Clause is intended to promote voter participation during elections, the Legislature has the constitutional power to enact laws that ‘secure the secrecy of the ballot and the purity of elections and guard against the abuse of [the] elective franchise.’” The Supreme Court therefore affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Crum’s complaint for failing to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. View "Crum v. Duran" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the New Mexico Supreme Court’s review was whether a 2009 default foreclosure judgment could be collaterally attacked based on assertions that the judgment was void for lack of jurisdiction and procured by fraud. In this case, those assertions were made by Phoenix Funding, LLC, which attempted to overturn a settled foreclosure judgment entered in favor of Aurora Loan Services, LLC. The Supreme Court held that the 2009 default judgment was not void and that Phoenix’s fraud claim was procedurally barred. The Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ judgment, reinstated the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Aurora, and remanded the case to the district court with instructions to dismiss Phoenix’s fraud claim. View "Phoenix Funding, LLC v. Aurora Loan Servs., LLC" on Justia Law
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Defendant Marcos Suazo became agitated while roughhousing with his friend Matthew Vigil. Suazo retrieved his shotgun and pointed it at Vigil. Vigil grabbed the shotgun and placed the barrel in his mouth. Suazo pulled the trigger, killing Vigil and severely injuring his friend Roger Gage, who was standing behind Vigil. A key contested issue in this case was whether Suazo knew the shotgun was loaded when he pulled the trigger. Among other crimes, Suazo was convicted of second-degree murder and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. He appealed his second-degree murder conviction to the Court of Appeals, contending that the district court erred by excluding the witness testimony and by modifying the uniform jury instruction for second-degree murder. The Court of Appeals certified his case to the New Mexico Supreme Court due to the significant public importance of the jury instruction issue. The Supreme Court: (1) affirmed the district court’s exclusion of the hearsay evidence because the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that Suazo’s statements, which were overheard one hour after the shooting, were neither excited utterances nor present sense impressions; and (2) the district court erred by modifying the uniform jury instruction for second-degree murder because in 1980 the Legislature amended the definition of second-degree murder to specifically require proof that the accused knew that his or her acts created a strong probability of death or great bodily harm. Because the modified instruction misstated an essential element, the Supreme Court reversed Suazo’s conviction for second-degree murder and remanded for a new trial. View "New Mexico v. Suazo" on Justia Law

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Trevor Begay pleaded no contest to a petty misdemeanor count of battery. The County Magistrate Court imposed a 182-day sentence, suspended 171 days, credited Begay with 11 days of pre-sentence confinement, and imposed supervised probation. Begay failed to comply with the terms of his probation; he neither completed a life skills class nor performed community service. The magistrate court consequently ordered Begay to appear for a hearing. When Begay failed to appear, the magistrate judge issued a bench warrant for his arrest. Had Begay complied with the terms of his probation, his original probationary sentence would have concluded on December 27, 2012. Instead, on that day, Begay was subject to an outstanding warrant. The question this case presented for the Supreme Court’s review was whether a magistrate court had jurisdiction to revoke probation when a defendant violated the terms of probation and was in bench-warrant status when the defendant’s original probationary period expired. The Court held that NMSA 1978, Section 31-20-8 (1977), does not deprive a magistrate court of jurisdiction to revoke a defendant’s probation under these circumstances. The Court reversed the contrary judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded for the execution of the sentence imposed by the magistrate court. View "New Mexico v. Begay" on Justia Law

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Laticia Lucero (Baby) died on June 9th, 2010, just 47 days after she was born to Mother and defendant Jadrian “Jay” Lucero. Baby’s autopsy revealed that she died as a result of the type of injuries one might expect after being ejected from a vehicle in a high-speed collision or falling from a third-story window and landing on one’s head. During the investigation into Baby’s death, Defendant told law enforcement that Baby was under his care on the afternoon of June 9th, and that he had found her “not breathing” when he went to check on her in her crib. Defendant was indicted on a single count of intentional child abuse resulting in Baby’s death, and a jury convicted him of intentional child abuse resulting in the death of a child less than twelve years of age under NMSA 1978, Section 30-6-1(D), (H) (2009). The district court sentenced him to life in prison. Defendant raised two issues on appeal: (1) the jury instructions improperly defined the intent element for the crime of intentional child abuse by endangerment and, therefore, resulted in fundamental error; and (2) the district court abused its discretion when it refused to hold an evidentiary hearing on Defendant’s motion for a new trial. Finding no reversible error, the New Mexico Supreme Court affirmed defendant’s conviction. View "New Mexico v. Lucero" on Justia Law